To say that the 2013 campaign for the Dodgers has been trying so far is a bit of an understatement. They’re 17-22, in last place. They’ve had two losing streaks of at least six games. We’ve spent nearly as much time talking about whether Don Mattingly should be fired as we’ve had trying to figure out why there’s somehow a 140% injury rate among the active roster. Seriously — six starting pitchers to the disabled list by May 15. How does that even happen?
As you’d expect, the tone of Dodger fans has been decidedly negative. This team has been bad, and worse, they’ve been boring. Squawking over how a team with a bottomless payroll could be playing like this aside, we’ve spent a good portion of the season triaging the endless problems and wondering just how long they could circle the drain before it was too late and the entire season would have to be written off.
I’m not prepared to say that the team’s problems are behind them, because they aren’t. Injuries are still a problem. Matt Kemp still isn’t hitting for power, though he is at least hitting. The bench & bullpen remain a concern, especially Brandon League; Matt Magill & Chris Capuano are both in the rotation, which is far from ideal. But quietly, the Dodgers just took a series from a Washington group which is arguably the most talented team in the league, and they’ve suddenly won 4 of 5 — and Zack Greinke looked pretty good in his return.
We may be looking through Dodger blue colored glasses today, but I’m sick of writing about problems day after day. So as we see a glimmer of hope, let’s take some time on this off day to remind ourselves that there are some pretty great things happening this year. Here’s ten.
1. Clayton Kershaw
Nearly a month ago, I wrote about Kershaw’s greatness at ESPN. It’s hardly any sort of stroke of genius on my part to have pointed out how incredible he is — breaking news! Kershaw rules! — but over the last few days, he’s collected an increasing amount of national play. This is accurate. Clayton Kershaw is the best, and he’s the front runner for another Cy Young Award. I imagine you’d get no argument on this from his best pal…
2. A.J. Ellis
Last year, Ellis hit .270/.373/.414. That’s a .341 wOBA, and it was seen as a phenomenal success. So far this year, it’s .286/.385/.411 — a .354 wOBA — and somehow it still feels like it’s under the radar. We tried our best to get Ellis to the All-Star game last year, a campaign which did not go unnoticed. #AJ2NY? Oh, you better believe it. It’s difficult to talk about Ellis without mentioning…
3. On-base percentage
I know, I know. They can’t hit with runners in scoring position, so they don’t drive in runs. That’s an enormous problem, if not one that isn’t readily fixable. But before you can fail at driving home runners in scoring position, you need to at least have those runners on, and there this club is doing a wonderful job with a .338 non-pitcher mark that would be better than any of the previous three seasons. Is that because of Mark McGwire? Maybe. But this is also a different roster than in years past, and that starts with…
4. Carl Crawford
Forget Luis Cruz — no, really, please literally forget him — because there was no bigger question mark than what Crawford would be able to provide this year. If Crawford failed as the team struggled and Allen Webster & Rubby De La Rosa looked good in Boston, I really don’t know how the fan base would have reacted. While we were cautiously optimistic in spring thanks to his improved batting stance, I don’t think any of us expected this. Remember when “who hits leadoff” was the biggest problem? Crawford has more than filled that hole, leading the team in runs, homers, and steals, all with a .369 OBP and good defense in left. Crawford has been much more than the expensive anchor it took to get…
5. Adrian Gonzalez
Considering how much effort it took, both in players and dollars, basically just to get Gonzalez in blue, it’d be plenty embarrassing if he wasn’t hitting. Hit he has, good for a .387 wOBA that makes him currently #7 on the first base leaderboards. (Yes, James Loney is ahead of him. Good for him; whatever’s happening to him in Tampa was never, ever going to happen in Los Angeles.) He’s done that despite the ludicrous umpire-related neck injury that has slowed him for the last two weeks.
For Dodger first basemen over the last 55 years, only two seasons from Eric Karros and one apiece from Eddie Murray & Pedro Guerrero have topped Gonzalez’ wOBA pace; Steve Garvey never did once. I’ll happily take that without complaint, especially when this entire track was just an elaborate scheme to acquire…
6. Nick Punto
I will be the first to admit that there’s no way in hell that Punto is sustaining a .417 BABIP. When he falls, and he will, he’s going to fall hard. But maybe that won’t be so important later in the season, when Mark Ellis & Hanley Ramirez & Jerry Hairston are healthy, and Dee Gordon may have shown enough to stick around, and ownership has bought Chase Headley and 1987 Ozzie Smith and 1964 Brooks Robinson.
It’s important now, with everyone hurt and Cruz atrocious. Hitting .333/.418/.423… well, it matters a lot. That said, it’s still not quite as much fun as…
7. Juan Uribe
I’ve made this joke a few times, but I’m really, really enjoying Uribe’s character development from “hated super-villain” to “underdog man of the people”. He’s walking. he’s playing good defense. He’s walking. His OBP is .397! I actually got to write a post about him having the highest BB% in baseball. This is a man who was buried for the last two months of last year; this is a man who had absolutely no business surviving the offseason on this roster. He’s here. He’s playing. He’s necessary.
What a sport. What a world. Speaking of which, one year ago, none of us had ever even heard the name of…
8. Paco Rodriguez
Rodriguez hadn’t even been drafted out of the University of Florida by this point in 2012; now here he is, getting play for late inning work. While that’s ridiculously premature after 21.2 major league innings, it speaks to how much the team relies on him already. In those 21.2 innings, he’s whiffed 24, walking only eight. He is, almost inarguably, the second-best reliever this team has, which is more important than it sounds considering the struggles of League & Ronald Belisario and the injury troubles of Scott Elbert & Shawn Tolleson. It’s one thing to be the quickest draft pick from your class to make the majors for a September look; it’s quite another to make the Opening Day roster the next season — despite being out of options, and getting chosen over a veteran who was having a great spring in Kevin Gregg — and become a vital part of the club.
When I say “second best,” that’s no slight, because hardly anyone is going to top…
9. Kenley Jansen
Make Jansen the closer, because League sucks! Keep him as a setup man, where he can be available for the important situations! There’s merit to both ideas — I quite liked Jon Weisman’s look at Mattingly’s usage of Jansen this week — but the only truth is that Jansen will dominate wherever he is. After his repeated cardiac issues, it wouldn’t have been difficult at all to hear the sad words that Jansen was going to need to step away from the game for his own health. That would have been perfectly understandable. Yet here he is, not only continuing his previous success, he’s improving upon it.
His velocity is down slightly, though I consider that less of a concern than an indication of a man who came up as a newly-converted pitcher simply throwing heat who has now learned the art of the mound. Jansen has improved his BB/9 rate each year he’s been up — 4.36 to 3.05 to this year’s 2.11 — and the only reason he’s not discussed with relief stars like Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman is because he’s not collecting the generally silly “save” stat next to his name.
Jansen may not be getting saves, but if that word applies anywhere, it’s to…
10. Hyun-jin Ryu
Last week, I asked, “where would the Dodgers be without Ryu?” He came in as a complete unknown, but as the rotation fell apart around Kershaw, Ryu has been a rock. The two lefties have been the only starters who have shown any ability to go deep into games and rest an overworked bullpen, and he’s been good while doing it — he’s in the top 20 in K/9, the top 25 in FIP, and the top 50 in ERA, besting many much more well-known starters. On some teams, his performance would arguably make him an “ace”; on this team, he’s the #3 starter at best.
Again, we’re far from being past the troubles we’ve seen over the first two months. But nor has this season been entirely the flaming trainwreck many have made it out to be. There’s still a lot of good here, and for all of our sakes, let’s hope we’re seeing the start of things coming together.